You’ve worked out the basics of your workflow and created the start of a system where you can orchestrate your workflow.
In this guide, you’ll learn step-by-step how to validate your base’s structure. By the end of this guide, you’ll have the confidence that your base is properly structured so you can use it with your stakeholders to manage your workflow.
You’ll know that you’ve:
- Created a base that accurately reflects your workflow
- Optimized your base structure to reduce manual entry
- Created a system you can confidently share with your stakeholders
And we’ll answer the following common questions when starting a new base:
- Should my workflow be in one base or multiple bases?
- Does my base have too many tables?
- Does my base have too few tables?
- Do I have the right fields for my workflow?
- How do I make it easy to link the right records together?
- Could I pull information from one table to another?
#1 Keep everything for one workflow in one base
Since information is related within an Airtable base, it’s important that all of the information for a workflow be captured in one place. It’s why the best practice in Airtable is to keep all of your workflow’s information in one base.
For instance, the asset management creation process in a web design agency is complex and could be considered its own workflow. However, since it’s closely related to projects and clients, it’s best that all information around projects, clients and assets be organized in one base.
With that said, there may come a time where your base grows to a point where it encompasses multiple workflows. An indication of having more than one workflow in the same base could be the presence of many records without any relationships to the rest of the base.
For instance, say your web design agency base grows to include prospects from your Sales team—clients who are not yet under contract. Those potential clients would not have scheduled projects or related assets and therefore no relationships to a large part of your base. Remember that your workflow’s context only included clients under contract. That is an indication that a separate base may be appropriate for the sales process.
Separate bases does not mean disjointed workflows! You can use Airtable sync to automatically bring in the information from another base that is relevant to your workflow—clients under contract from the sales process base for instance—into your base. That way, every piece of information for your workflow is still in one place!
→ Make sure you’re keeping all of the information for your workflow in one base. If you feel like the information is expanding beyond your workflow’s context, create a second base and sync what you need for your workflow!
#2 Use views instead of tables
Just like it’s valuable to keep all of your workflow’s information in one base in Airtable, it’s also important to have that information organized properly so you can always find what you need.
In Airtable, each table in your base should represent a distinct list needed for your workflow—clients, assets and projects for instance. In practice, you should always try to minimize the number of tables in your base. Instead of new tables for similar information, you can leverage views. This keeps all of your information consolidated while also making relationships easier to create.
If you have two or more tables holding similar information with nearly the same fields, this is an indication that you may have redundant tables. These tables can be merged into one table with different views for all your informational needs. For instance, you might have created one table for each stage of your projects or one table for each type of asset. These tables are not distinct—it’s better to have one table for all projects or assets with views for each stage or type of asset.
Keeping like information in one table gives you one place to track and manage all of your information while using views to organize it in different ways.
→ Do two or more tables in your base have matching fields tracking similar information? Centralize those into one table with multiple views that can show you the information you need.
#3 Expand your workflow with new tables
As you build out your base, you may want to increase its scope to encompass additional elements of your workflow.
In Airtable, you can easily expand any dimension of your workflow using linked records.
Let’s say when building out your base, you decided to represent the client-project relationship as a single select field in the project table. This limits the client information you track to the client’s name—the options in the single select. It’s natural to want to track additional information for the client: their address, logo, or any other information.
To expand the dimension of your workflow, you can turn a field into a linked record. This will create a new table with one record for every value in that field. The new table will maintain the relationships you had in place while allowing you to add in new fields to track the additional information.
→ Are there additional dimensions of your workflow that you’d like to track from a single field? If so, turn that field into a linked record and add any additional fields you’d like to track in your new table.
#4 Do more with less with formulas
Concepts covered: formulas
Some information in your workflow requires manual input: agreed upon start and end dates for projects, assigned collaborators for assets and client contracts. Other information in your workflow can be derived from existing values you’ve already defined: if your review date is always a week before the submission date, its value is solely determined by the due date.
In Airtable, you can use the formula field type to automatically determine values that can be derived from other fields. Formula fields can be used in many ways to reduce manual inputs and ensure information consistency—too many to cover in this short guide! However, here are some common ways to use formulas:
- You can use the formula field type to perform mathematical operations such as calculating budget overhead as a percentage of the budget.
- You can use the DATEADD function to automatically deduce crucial dates that depend on other dates—say a review date that is always a week before the submission date.
→ Could any of your fields derive from other fields? Use the formula field to determine them automatically, which saves you the need to enter redundant information and ensures information consistency.
#5 Make clear connections with a primary field
Covered concepts: primary field
The left-most field in your table is called the primary field, and it is special: it cannot be deleted, moved or hidden. The primary field is meant to represent what’s in the record. As such, it should be informative, unique, and short, so even if all other fields are hidden, it’s clear what each record represents.
If your primary field isn’t unique or representative, it can be difficult to understand and differentiate your records. For instance if your contacts have the same first name, it becomes impossible to quickly identify which record refers to which contact.
Additionally, the primary field is how records are represented when associating records between tables. Without a short, unique value in the primary field, it can be difficult to ensure you’re associating the correct records. Say you’re only showing client first names in the primary field of a contacts table. When linking contacts to your clients, it’s impossible to associate the right Brooke if you have more than one!
One common technique to create a strong primary field is to use a formula field and concatenate two or more existing values in your table. For instance, you can create a primary field composed of the first name and the last of contacts making them easier to differentiate.
→ Take a moment to ensure that all primary fields in your tables are short, unique, clear representations of what’s in the record.
#6 Create a single source of truth with lookups
Covered concepts: lookup field
A great workflow has consistent and up-to-date information! You should always strive to reduce the number of places where you’re required to update the same piece of information.
In Airtable, you can use the lookup field to pull in information stored in a linked record into another table.
For example, if a project’s due date changes, that change should be reflected everywhere at once. You could use a lookup field to see the project due date associated to an asset directly in the asset table. Any changes to the project’s due date would be reflected across all assets tied to that project.
With lookup fields, you can update information in one place and have those changes rippled across your workflow reducing the need for manual entry and increasing information consistency.
→ Updating the same information in multiple places? Replace redundant fields with a lookup field to keep information consistent while only updating information in one place.
Try creating lookup fields to see the information where you need it for any fields that could be relevant across linked tables (such as project due dates, client’s email addresses, assets for a campaign, sprint statuses or anything else!)
You’ve taken 6 key steps to making sure your base is efficient and matches your workflow’s needs:
✓ You’ve captured all of the information for your workflow in one base
✓ You’ve organized the right information with views instead of new tables
✓ You’ve expanded your workflow with linked records
✓ You’ve reduced manual entry with formulas
✓ You’ve made clear connections with strong primary fields
✓ You’ve created a single source of truth with lookups
You can now be confident that you’ve got a great base! It’s time to think about how to efficiently include your stakeholders which we’ll cover in the final step of this series!